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Some of the most enduring images of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the eerie sight of empty city streets. With many office workers stuck in their home offices all year, downtowns from New York City to Los Angeles have taken on a post-apocalyptic feeling. A silver lining has been that it's been much faster to get somewhere — especially during rush hour — when you do need to leave the house.
However, many drivers have learned the wrong lessons about how to behave when there is less traffic on the roads, and it has deadly consequences. If you're hitting the road, you still need to remember to be safe out there.
According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency, traffic fatalities rose 4.6% through the first nine months of 2020 compared to 2019. This is despite the fact that pandemic lockdowns and working from home took millions of drivers off the roads.
Safety advocates were celebrating after data from 2019 showed that traffic deaths were continuing to decline across the country. But the pandemic seems to have undone all of that positive momentum. In New York City, for example, 2020 saw more traffic deaths than any year since 2014.
Experts blame the rise squarely on the pandemic and the toll it has taken on us — beyond financial and physical health effects.
"Preliminary data tells us that ... fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes," NHTSA announced in its findings. The agency said that vehicle speeds were up 22% in many cities. California reported an 87% increase in tickets issued for drivers topping 100 mph during a statewide lockdown.
New York officials found a 30-year high in motorcyclist fatalities, and that 60% of those accidents involved drivers without a motorcycle license. An NYC official said that "a lot of younger people, young men in particular, seem to be seeking an outlet from the stress and boredom of COVID."
NHTSA also reported that 65% of drivers requiring treatment after an accident had alcohol or drugs in their system in 2020, up from a pre-pandemic level of 51%.
Another problem is the rise in illegal street racing, seen in many major metro areas across the country due to bar and nightlife closures.
Despite the pandemic, for many Americans there are times when you have to leave the house, whether it's to pick up some cold medicine, care for an ailing relative, or report to your work as an essential employee.
The stats show that it's more important than ever that you practice defensive driving, both to keep yourself and other drivers safe. That means:
"The pandemic made me drive fast" will not be a valid defense in a personal injury lawsuit. Drive safe!